You should be! But likely not in the way that you are. Let me divulge.
I’ll start and finish with the Asbury Revival (of February 2023). I am hopeful. I pray it is genuine, transparent, and real. No hype, no flash, no superstars, people truly finding Jesus where they are and being moved to places they haven’t been spurring each other with the tools to persevere and continue to grow as disciples when the excitement clears. I pray it is an authentic outpouring of the Spirit. It appears to be a community of worship, testimony, prayer, teaching, and humility in a spirit of deep contemplative shepherding. I pray the only name and face is Jesus.
With that said, this article has very little to do with Asbury itself. A great part of Theology is understanding the original message and intention of words and determining how we might properly interpret them within the context of the original audience and how they may then be applied to us if at all. This article will seek to explore what the term revival meant when used in the pages of the Bible and how we still might apply and interpret the word thousands of years later. A mature believer should understand the context of the scripture and apply it similarly to their own walk.
Today I find the great majority (but not all) of our evangelical Christian churches are “off the reservation.” We are way past the recipe given and the evolution of it doesn’t look better (I regularly say any evolution is ugly.) We haven’t taken the recipe and created a steadfast feast that is more grandeurs than the original, but rather “watered it down” and created more of a cheap fast-food snack, and some might even say a poison. We are enabling thoughts and actions that lead farther from discipleship rather than closer. We are seeking things that are opposite of what we should be; ideals that promote casual Christianity rather than wholly devoted discipleship. In some cases, we are part of a wayward (Biblically described as adulterous – not my words) bride that needs to be shepherded to a better place and we should all be concerned and in unity of spirit to bring her (us-them) back in the trajectory of Jesus. Some people say that we are in need of revival to accomplish this, and I “sort of” agree with that, however its problematic framework within theology for a few reasons that I will explain. I am not as convinced that we need “revival” as I am that we need transparent, authentic, raw, and real discipleship. From the 1:1 level to 3, 12, and 70; everyone in the church should be on a continuous journey of being devoutly discipled and discipling others in a covenant community.
Let me say first that not all of the body of Christ looks like a fast-food snack. I am part of a life group that is amazing and walks with Yahweh communally each day with people that are in different stages of the journey. I also have many friends around the country that belong to vibrant bodies that are flourishing in discipleship. At Covenant Theological Seminary (where I am the president) we have thousands of students that desire to live as fervent disciples and lead others in that walk and are in a devout journey with Jesus and others. We are nurturing a discipleship culture. Find your tribe, find discipleship, live in life! Unfortunately, in my county there are 92 churches and the great majority of them don’t show the fruit of discipleship as described in the Bible. It seems much of the church has a discipleship and/or covenant adultery problem.
When people say things like, “we, or our church” need a revival; I believe it is “good” and I want to believe that their hearts are right; but it is really the opposite of what they should be saying as mature Christians and can be an indicator of shallow theological understanding. When people want to drive for hours to be part of “a move of God” it can sometimes seem like they are empty of the spirit moving this way in their life regularly, so they want to “go find it” somewhere else.
According to Merriam Webster to “revive” means to bring something back to life or resurrect it.
I would agree with Webster here that the definition implies something once had life, that life has ceased, and then is restored. It isn’t often that I would say a modern definition of a word is in line with a Biblical definition but in this case it likely is. The challenge we have to address when we apply this definition to a Biblical perspective is that we need to interpret “life” based on a Biblical understanding.
There are two Hebrew words that are translated “revive, revived, or reviving” in the Old Testament. They are chayah and michyah. Michyah is the noun and adjective form of chayah. Here are Strong’s definitions:
2421. chayah, khaw-yaw’; a primary root; to live whether literally or figuratively; causative, to revive:
Translated (in the KJV): keep (leave, make) alive, X certainly, give (promise) life, (let, suffer to) live, nourish up, preserve (alive), quicken, recover, repair, restore (to life), revive, (X God) save (alive, life, lives), X surely, be whole.
4241. michyah, mikh-yaw’; from 2421; preservation of life; hence sustenance; also the live flesh, i.e. the quick:
Translated (in the KJV): preserve life, quick, recover selves, reviving, sustenance, victuals.
By Biblical definition, chayah means to live, michyah means the preservation of life and they are both translated “revive, revived, or reviving.” Neither one really takes on the more modern idea of resuscitation of life.
There is only one word in Greek in the Bible that is translated “revive.” It is anazao:
326. anazao, an-ad-zah’-o; from 303 and 2198; to recover life (lit. or fig.):
Translated (in the KJV): be alive again, live again, revive.
The Greek seems to be more in line with the way we think of “revival” today within our modern western evangelical glasses. The root word is zao, from which we get the word zoo. Used as a prefix (“zoo”-logy) it means life. Zoology is the study of life. Zao means life, or to live. In this specific word, the Greek prefix ana means to become. It is a word that has several meanings when taken in context. It may mean in the midst of, up, between, apiece, in turn, again, and others. So anazao means to come alive (again).
Based on the above, in theology there are two views of Revival, and ironically the basic conceptions of both views are near opposite. The first claims that Revival can only come to one that is already “saved,” and the second view would attend that it can only come to those that are not “saved.”
- The first view (that I do not ascribe to) says that only Christians can be “revived” because only they have spiritual life, having been regenerated by the Spirit of God on the basis of the redeeming work of Christ. At first it sounds pretty good, but let’s really consider the statement. This definition tends to be a reformed view hinging on some of the 5 pillars of Calvinism (TULIP). Biblically those in this camp would need to interpret the Israel story to be “always saved” because they are God’s chosen and therefore can’t lose their salvation (which in my opinion is far-fetched, but that is another post.) Therefore, when revival comes to Israel, it must be defined as bringing His people back to spiritual vitality. I could actually agree with this for the definition of renewal but not necessarily revival, but the text says revival; so, in my mind the definition still doesn’t work. There are several other problems with this view, but the main one is that isn’t ever the Biblical definition of what the word revival means. It might be what we want the term revival to mean in a modern culture, but I would argue it didn’t mean that to the intended audience and shouldn’t mean that today. The Hebrew text repeatedly treats revival in Israel as having new life (they were dead and now they live), not some kind of second awakening from real life to a better kind of real life, or real life again. That kind of thinking is platonic philosophy applied to 1700’s reformed antics and requires a lot of theological gymnastics to try to align with the Biblical definition of revival. Revival is the same root as resurrection which implies from death or destruction to a completely new life pointing to the example of what we have in Christ. As I will go on to point out, if you are in Christ, you are already a new creation and once you have this life in Christ you aren’t looking to get it over and over again.
This view of “revival” is often interpreted in modern English as “restoring the life you once had.” Drowning victims and heart attack victims can be revived or brought back to their previous life. Normally when people say they desire revival, they don’t want to just get the life back we had a few minutes or years ago, they are desiring of more than they had, they are asking that God take them further or that they might experience more than they previously had. In this way you might think of revival as to come home, like the prodigal did. (Although some will argue that the context of the parable of the prodigal son is Israel and shouldn’t be applied to us and that is a valid point to consider here, does it have application to the word revival at all?) To consider this point, perhaps there is a Biblical application to someone that once had a vibrant life in Christ and went astray and is now seeking restoration or reconciliation back to God or the community or body of Christ. But again, this doesn’t really seem to fit what most people pray for when they are praying for “revival” although in some situations it may be very accurate and applicable. It seems like this is often used to rather defend a view of once saved always saved and try to give merit to eternal security theology. As I would contend with much of the (TULIP) framework, this seems like a stretch here. The specific words for revival never seem to be applied to these situations in the Bible. For instance, in the Prodigal parable, the author certainly could have used the term anazao if that was the intention, but they didn’t.
- The best hermeneutical approach (what the Bible seems to clearly teach) indicating a definition of Biblical revival (as it is used throughout the pages of the Bible) would be to say, the unsaved or dead, are brought to authentic life. God brings a community out of destruction (chaos-death) into “life” with Him. I will demonstrate this in the scriptures below. This obviously gets very theological. Our modern western minds go right to thinking salvifically as I mentioned with the first point. Most western Christians are always trying to find where the line of salvation is drawn in the sand. In other words, was the person saved and then came back? (Once saved always saved? TULIP) I would suggest thinking this way is a deeply rooted modern problem and needs to be untrained. It is the wrong way to consider the journey of salvation and sanctification. Christ died once for all and offers the same to us, to accept life once. Not over and over again. Humanity is Biblically personified in Adam, we have physical life (which at one time in Eden was whole but is now Biblically dead – at one time we belonged to God but now we are the worlds) and when we accept one new life grafted into the body of Jesus we are reclaimed by God and experience death to our previous life and resurrection of new life in Christ. Therefore…
When we are “revived” it is the returning to Edenic life that God intended for us. We are revived to the original plan and context of partnering in life with God, made complete in Christ, and culminated in the fellowship and communion of His body… ONCE AND FOR ALL.
Nehemiah brought Israel “back” from captivity giving them freedom. Every time revival came to Israel they were literally lost in their destruction (a metaphor for death). Today the American church is also very much lost in their destruction in idolatry to the world and most of the church seems to enable it. I am careful again to not draw a line of salvation. There is an element that may or may not be salvific but it is not the best way to think about what revival meant. Christ didn’t dwell on salvation. It was merely a part of the whole process to complete life in Him. Our lens of the work of what Christ wants to do in us should be greater. We need to challenge ourselves to a better more scriptural goal.
The aim should be complete life in Him, devout discipleship in the image of Christ, not simply salvation.
The New Covenant calling was total discipleship. Check everything on the beach and walk each day with the Messiah, your life will change, you won’t go back to work tomorrow as a fisherman, or back to the ways of the world, you will walk with the King each and every day from this point forward in His kingdom of discipleship. Your life will never look the same because you are now living in redemption, you’re walking towards total transformation into the image of Jesus back to Eden. Every care is cast on Him and you’re living in complete faith. You are part of the solution to bring peace to chaos and cultivate intimacy in Christ.-Dr. Will Ryan This is the Way of Covenant Discipleship (Part III)
CONSIDERING “REVIVAL” MORE IN THE SENSE OF RENEWAL
I see and here a lot of Christians describing the desire for “revival” and it often makes me wince. Jesus brought revival (new life to the spiritually dead – which is the meaning of the word itself) with the intention of moving people towards a life of complete devotion as disciples. When a mature believer is seeking “revival” it seems “off” to those that understand the Biblical stories and definition of revival. It may seem as if they have an elementary understanding of Biblical discipleship. Sometimes it comes off as an indicator that they themselves aren’t mature “doers”, essentially if they were mature in their understanding, they should already be claiming that life and not asking for it or desiring it again. To say it differently, mature Christians shouldn’t be looking for revival of themselves, they are already alive in Christ and should be displaying fruit and shepherding others into revived new life in Christ. They have life and are given everything they need in Christ; they just need to claim it and be devoted to walk in it. They don’t need to be reborn over and over again. That is contrary to the message of the gospel. Revival Biblically should bring a dead person, community, or nation into new life. However, I also understand that when people use the word “revival” what they often mean is they have the desire for Biblical renewal; but when they use the word “revival” it might seem like they aren’t theologically grounded or possibly not in a good place (which could even infer wondering about the authenticity of their salvation.)
REVIVAL IS FOR COMMUNITY
In nearly every case (with the only exception being if you choose to interpret the prodigal as a revival), the word revival is used to apply to a community not an individual. However, if I am part of a larger movement of revival it would also be proper to say that I personally experienced the revival (if the group experienced it, I was part of the group and therefore also experienced it as a group but also individually.) But theologically that is a modern way of thinking. By Biblical context the term should take on a primary context by which it is applied to a community not an individual. One of the modern age interpretations we are challenged with is we don’t really think this way very much anymore. Our culture today tends to be based upon the individual needs of myself rather than the needs of the community. We are plagued with a self-centered desire to apply things intended in the OT to be communal to simply be about “me.” We might need to adjust our context of interpretation.
I think there is a wonderful place for renewal of mature believers. X44 is involved with several Renewal ministries. But Biblical renewal is different than Biblical Revival.
In every example of “revival” in the Bible (and there actually aren’t many), revival is shepherded by those walking in devotion to Yahweh.
Samuel sees revival in Israel (1st Samuel 7: 1 – 13.) Samuel we know of as one of the most devout OT disciples- through his devotion he leads Israel (in part) back to the Lord.
Revival in the Times of King Asa. (Second Chronicles 14 – 15.) Asa was the third king after Solomon. Chapter 14 tells us how he destroyed the centers of idolatry, some of which had been set up by Solomon in his later years to please his foreign wives. The Lord blessed his efforts, guided him, gave him security, with long periods of peace and prosperity.
Elijah. (First Kings, chapter 18.) Elijah was tested because he had to rely upon God to supply every need, including food, water and protection. It was Elijah (and God) against the rest of the world, and what followed was the world found or feared Yahweh.
Revivals during the Reign of King Jehoshaphat of Judah. (2nd Chronicles 19 – 20.) & The Reign of King Hezekiah of Judah 2nd Chronicles 29 – 32, and Isaiah 36 – 39 Scholars are on the fence of whether these were true revival or not. The prophets sought revival but was it genuine?
The Reign of King Josiah of Judah (2nd Chronicles 34 – 35.) This story marks the last of the revivals during the period of the kings of Israel and Judah. Although there had been a number of higher points, the story has been largely one of decline, spiritually, morally, and socially, to the point where God allowed both of these kingdoms to be destroyed. In other words, the revivals didn’t stick. They didn’t have lasting fruit. Some might even say they were simply hyper sensational. As we have found on the other occasions, “devotion” to God rises and falls. There is very little steady growth. Perhaps it lasted a generation but likely not.
You might also consider Daniel 9 and Nehemiah 8 and some will argue for Revival in the New Testament but that is difficult by biblical definition without some theological gymnastics (as I have described pertaining the prodigal parable.)
REVIVAL WITHOUT SHEPHERDING?
When I hear people say things like, “and the revival started through the people not the pastors or any leaders” I have mixed feelings or might again wince. In some way I totally agree, as I have identified the church hasn’t looked much like fervent disciples from the top. In this way these statements don’t surprise me. But on the other hand, revival comes to those Biblically that are dead not alive in Christ. The better Biblical posture is to pray that Jesus would move you as a He did His disciples to shepherd others to a full or whole life in Christ. But I also believe it is possible for individuals and communities to come to God without shepherding, that just isn’t the Biblical picture that we get. But in God all things are possible.
YOU SHOULD BE AN AGENT OF REVIVAL!
My hardship continues in that our modern evangelical church looks very little like those Jesus anointed to bring life – those in devotion with the father, those that have intimate knowledge of the father shepherding others into the same place, those that left their old lives on the beach and lived totally redeemed lives. Today most Christians can’t pray for 45 minutes let alone all night as Jesus asked those that were clearly in the trajectory of covenant discipleship (and still failed). 2000 years later we should look more like disciples (or Jesus) than ever, yet we seem to have digressed compared to the first century description of the disciples that we have; our lack of devotion enabled by much of the church is likely the problem.
Historically, revivals are hit and miss, only last for a short time, and generally do not have positive long-term effect on a community. But people sure do love to brag that they were there or part of it (which also makes me wince). However, renewed discipleship living in a covenant with Christ brings sustaining powerful life and Jesus’ community to every heart it touches. With that said, I am personally willing to be a part of any Jesus movement and pray for the best! You never know what God might do!
RENEWED PEOPLE RENEW!
If we are praying for Revival of those that need life, we first need the body of Christ to get back to the recipe given, to claim the life they already have and to return to a whole-hearted devotion of checking the idolatry on the beach and walking each day with the master. Devotion to Jesus means living perpetually in renewal. Bringing people to new life hardly matters if we aren’t willing to shepherd them into deeper discipleship. I pray daily that the dead come to life and also be transformed into disciples, I pray every day that God may use me that way… but until we get the great commission transparently communicated as “all in” discipleship into mature believers within the church, we are going to have a hard time shepherding the rest of the world to revival.
HYPER – EMOTIONAL?
Some people thrive on emotion, others are turned off by the mere word of revival because of its association with hyper – sensationalism or “OVER” emotional stimulation. I won’t touch on this much, as I think a personal emotional encounter with God is sometimes very warranted (although I don’t identify with “Captain Kirk” much here as I am more of the theological “Live long and prosper, Dr Spock”, but to each there own before the Lord, who are we to judge.) The better concern is rooted in authentic works of the spirit vs imitating an act of the spirit that leads some to distrust. If your “dropping feathers” or anything else to engineer what looks like the spirit you are promoting falsity not truth and that obviously is counter to what God wants of us. Much of the revival language today revolves around a “sovereign move of God” and therefore relegates spiritual growth in a community to whether God will do it or not based upon us pleading or finally “allowing” it. This is also poor theology and sending people down the wrong path. God is ALWAYS ready and willing to revive or renew and desires that individually and as a communal whole for His bride the church. It is also worth noting that when you regularly lead out of emotion rather than let God or the spirit lead, people question the motif. God loves people more than any self-declared “intercessor” ever could…
The Biblical model is that God brings revival to those that need new life using those that have claimed life once and for all and live devoted and continually renewed to that life and the kingdom community of Jesus.
Frank Viola is one of my favorites. Finding Organic Church is an excellent read. Here is a quote from the book on revival: “What is needed in the body of Christ is not restoration. It’s not even revival. What is needed is a revolution—a complete and radical change from top to bottom, a new sighting of Jesus Christ and His church, and a change of both mind-set and practice. To put it bluntly, we need a revolution in our understanding of the Christian life. We need a revolution in our practice of the church. And we need a revolution in our approach to church planting.”
I agree with Frank, much of our problem isn’t simply “more” revival it’s a complete paradox change within the body of Christ. I think we nearly agree 100% in regard to our thoughts on revival. My only concern with Frank’s take is that I get nervous with the word “revolution” in a Jesus context. Jesus was clearly not about Revolution in the sense that we think of the term today. I know that isn’t what Frank means, but I personally am hesitant to use the term here. The term Revolution today brings idea of war and disunity where I believe Revival and Renewal should be framed in peace, love, and mercy that Jesus imaged in humility.
ITS ABOUT ME
Unfortunately, a lot of revivals have been about the popularity of people. The events are centered around the hype of the famous “shepherd” rather than Jesus Himself. It is interesting that in John 6 Jesus also seems to turn away people that may just following the hype of the event. Too many people have chosen a pastor personality over Jesus and that has had devastating effects on the body of Christ. On the other hand, not every revival has been plagued by this.
You sometimes here people saying things like they are “chasing after” the spirit which can also be a sign of immaturity and shallow theological thinking. As I understand that what they likely mean is they have a desire to be a part of a community that is experiencing God, there is a disconnect. Healthy believers experience the spirit daily, there shouldn’t be a “chasing after” as if the spirit is a wild animal that needs be captured. If you are in Christ, the Spirit is already in you and desires to fill you up and simply needs your inviting continual devotion. In John 6 there were crowds coming to “watch or chase” Jesus and His response was to invite them in deeper communion. They are essentially turned away. This is a picture of people chasing after Jesus but when they get there, He calls them to His definition of discipleship, and they aren’t willing to enter. This is my hesitancy with people “chasing after” “revival” – Jesus didn’t seem to be into that. He was into discipleship. Did it open the door? Perhaps, (I am sure that happened) but we don’t seem to get a clear picture of that or see it as the ideal or prescriptive. What we get are stories of those that He invites after a period of walking with Him in intimacy not chasing for a momentary experience. That again seems “opposite” to the message we get with Jesus. That said, everything should be in balance. There isn’t anything wrong with going to a revival. If something points to Jesus I want to be a part of it. If Jesus is here in our midst, I want to commune with Him!
BACK TO ASBURY
I am on the other side of Calvinism (Free Will) but I admittingly share some skepticism of this event (Asbury) and other revivals as most of my Reformed brothers and sisters are skeptically wondering, “haven’t we progressed past the shallow revivalism of the past and moved towards more stability in our faith?” Unfortunately, I don’t think we as the body of Christ have. Some have, but not most of the church.
I am however hopeful and prayerful about Asbury. My response is simply “AMEN.” In this way I am not attempting to judge anything or anyone, whether they are mature or not, whether it is genuine, hyper-sensational, emotionally driven, or even engineered. I simply say and pray “AMEN.”
How do we know if it is a work of God? I don’t know for sure that we ever will. My typical indicator (which is borrowed from someone) goes something like, “It isn’t how high you jump in the moment but how straight you walk when you land.” I pray for the fruit and healing of the kingdom. It is good (tov) to desire such things.